Don’t Independent Study Groups Lead to Apostasy?

They certainly can.

See this post here. There isn’t a better summary we could come up with about the dangers study groups can present.

Yet, there are legitimate reasons to gather outside of church that can be uplifting and serve God’s purposes.

Assembling together in conferences outside of church allows for:

  • Fellowshipping on the doctrine of Christ,
  • Studying the scriptures in fellowships and families,
  • Teaching as opposed to debating,
  • Performing Priesthood ordinances such as Sacrament and Baptism (see here and here and here), and
  • Serving others and sharing our means to relieve the poor.

As long as the group doesn’t replace our individual duties to study things out on our own and gain salvation from God on our own, groups can be a source of inspiration and fellowship. Without a group, we cannot bare one anothers’ burdens and mourn with those that mourn (Mosiah 18:8-10). These group meetings do not have to be within church meetings alone. And, just because getting together as a group outside of church has its pitfalls, it doesn’t mean it can’t be done in the right way as well. Close friends and family can and often do worship together in righteousness (Matthew 18:20), without regards to LDS Church jurisdictional constraints.

To find such a fellowship or learn how to start your own, see here. A link to the fellowship locator will remain in the sidebar as well. A fellowship that does not encourage apostasy from the Lord cannot be called an apostate group (for a scriptural definition of apostasy, see Mosiah 35). However, some LDS Church leaders mistakenly equate disagreement with the ever-changing church handbook of instructions to be equivalent to apostasy, so beware of such leaders should you wish to also meet with a fellowship.

4 thoughts on “Don’t Independent Study Groups Lead to Apostasy?”

  1. On page 529 of Denver’s latest book, Persevering the Restoration, Denver gives the advice to “Study the scriptures in fellowships and in families.”

    I definitely see and agree with all those arguments. It’s great advice. I still think that it’s possible to “Study the scriptures in fellowships” and not fall prey to those other pitfalls.

    Are scriptures banned at our fellowships? I certainly wouldn’t think so. I think we can read them. I think it’s even okay to study them in our fellowships. Earlier in PtR he cautions to not waste time when we gather in fellowships. He suggests that studying the scriptures would prove useful and help not make the fellowship gathering a waste of time. I can’t find the exact spot where he talks about that.

    I think “teaching as opposed to debating” is spot on. I interpret that as “teaching (from the scriptures) as opposed to debating (whatever topic with or without the scriptures)”

    Would it be wrong/bad/ill-advised to “study the scriptures” when we come together?

    We could at least preach nothing save it “were the things which [Alma] had taught, and which had been spoken by the mouth of the holy prophets…[and] preach nothing save it were repentance and faith on the Lord” (Mosiah 18:19,20) To us those “holy prophets” can be found in the Standard Works, with particular emphasis on what came to us by God through Joseph Smith. Denver claims that his latest book was commissioned, inspired, and accepted by Him. Perhaps that too could be part of the fellowship curriculum? Though, and it’s purely my opinion, that pretty much everything else would be a waste of time to pay attention to in our fellowships.

    And what of the recorded “priests” who would teach the people when gathered? Of course, these “priests” did this at a sacrifice. They didn’t profit or benefit from that duty.

    It just seems that what the BOM preaches and what I’m seeing isn’t the same faith, yet. We have work to do, all of us.

    Just some thoughts.

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  2. All great points, Greg. I added studying the scriptures to the list above to make it more explicit. We certainly aren’t worried about the pitfalls of independent study groups because of all the ways you CAN get it right, which is easy for good-natured, like-minded people to pull off. But, there are many who are fearful of the pitfalls. When we moved to Utah from Baltimore, I heard about the concern of independent study groups leading people astray for the first time. It struck me as odd. I couldn’t see the problem with them. Denver Snuffer validates the concerns that can arise, and certainly now that we have resigned from the LDS Church, many could point to that as proof that study groups are dangerous, so hence the post. We believe the circumstances are markedly different, though, especially when considering that the LDS Church itself is astray on many points, and any cursory review of scriptures causes people who study on their own to start to realize the doctrinal issues. Because of this reality, a culture of ignoring the scriptures and discarding scripture reading habits has arisen. People are actually scared of reading them and looking into them deeply!! It is probably because they tell the truth about our awful situation and often we don’t like to have our world-views challenged. But, the scriptures teach the truth, and we all ought to feast upon them.

    So, yes, reading the scriptures is wholly appropriate in fellowships. If there is any caution about group-think, it is probably related to leaning upon a group, or conference, or favorite speaker, to give you all the conclusions. Perhaps it is better to take advantage of studying in groups to learn different perspectives and to find spring-boards for further individual study, where God can inform you much more adequately than a consensus among your peers can. Often we get over-excited about achieving a hard-won consensus that we don’t realize the truth of a matter has suffered from pandering to the lowest common agreeable concept. We all range in our readiness on various different topics at different times, and as hard as it is to tune into the mind of God individually, it is that much harder to get a group to tune in at the same time. It is amazing when it does happen, and definitely cause for rejoicing, but in my experience, the successes in a group, as magnificent as they are, are small, incremental achievements. You can get pretty far with understanding a lot of what God is willing to share on your own, though. Once we understand our individual duties to study deep, important mysteries, and appreciate the benefit of outside perspectives to expand our study, then groups can add significant value to the quest. We think that approach puts group study in its proper place, but like with General Conference, sometimes people substitute the group for their own individual effort. It makes sense that the fellowships are not fully mirroring what was achieved in the Book of Mormon yet, because, like you say, we all have work to do. We only have persuasion as a tool, so the small, incremental improvements really are much to rejoice about. We also really have much to be grateful for in God’s condescensions to us and His many mercies. It is easy for others to judge fellowships harshly, ourselves included.

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    1. I agree with what you said, though I suppose that doesn’t matter. Although it’s important to become “one” with the fellowship, in my opinion that CANNOT happen unless the individual first is “one” with God. Therefore, so-called “progress” in a group might not be translating in “progress” with being accepted by God. And like you said, the truth can suffer as a result of a group-think culture where instead of conforming strictly to the truth, compromises have to be made in the group because of certain sensibilities, immature faith, unbelief and etc; or, in other words, the group molds the truth to fit them and not the other way around. But that can also happen on a personal level. It’s quite the learning process simply learning to avoid contention of any form.

      How do we progress as taught in the various accounts of the BOM? If we are to have “priests” who teach, they CANNOT be paid, respected more than others, or in any way have an “advantage” over the hearers. Such a thing in BOM shows that both the teacher and the hearer have progressed to a level I’m not sure I’ve seen. The heart of the problem are priescrafts even in a tiny fellowship. We are all subject to the same influences.

      I’ll end with a partial quote from Denver in his post, “When I Clarify, When Not”

      4 Ne. 1:2 “and there were no contentions and disputations among them, and every man did deal justly one with another.” This was a first step. It was not complete. But the people managed to stop their disputes. They may not have agreed with one another, but they were no longer fighting among themselves about their different viewpoints.

      4 Ne. 1:13 “And it came to pass that there was no contention among all the people, in all the land; but there were mighty miracles wrought among the disciples of Jesus.” This was a closer agreement where united faith among the people began to bear the fruits of the spirit. It is a second level and developmentally greater than the absence of contention that preceded it.

      4 Ne. 1:15 “And it came to pass that there was no contention in the land, because of the love of God which did dwell in the hearts of the people.” This was yet another stage of development. It came as people’s hearts were filled through God’s love so they would no longer just be avoiding contention, they were now in agreement.

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